Thursday, December 5, 2013

House Committee Hearing Dec. 11 On Bill Prohibiting Stream Buffer Mandates

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing December 11 on House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) prohibiting DEP from mandating the use of stream buffers to control erosion and sedimentation in High Quality and Exceptional Value Watersheds under Chapter 102 of DEP’s regulations.
“Businesses and landowners alike have expressed their frustration with our 25 Pa. Code, Section 102.14 riparian buffer requirements and the negative impacts they have on development and land use in many areas of the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton), prime sponsor of the bill.  “It seems to me that this regulation has resulted in a major shift of state policy, which in effect, amounts to a taking of property without legislative oversight or approval.”
Click Here for a summary of the bill by the prime sponsor.
The hearing will be in Room B-31 of the Main Capitol and will start at 9:00 a.m.
The changes to Chapter 102 were adopted as final by the Environmental Quality Board in May of 2010 after review by DEP’s Water Resources Advisory Committee, Agricultural Advisory Board, meetings with interested stakeholders, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and review by the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees.
On June 27, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wrote to the Chairs of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to oppose House Bill 1565.  CBF’s letter said in part--
“A riparian buffer can help to prevent property damage and the expense of flooding; dramatically reduce stormwater management costs; help keep pristine streams clean; reduce the cost of treating water for potable uses; and in general, promote and sustain healthier communities.
“The simple act of planting a new, or maintaining an existing, forested riparian buffer allows stormwater runoff to soak into the ground when it rains, instead of rushing directly into our streams. Water is purified by plants, trees, and soil, and is released more slowly into the stream, thereby preventing pollution, erosion, and flood damage.
“(T)he buffer requirement is only triggered by the need for an NPDES permit and therefore does not apply to any existing landowners and their current land use, but only in a new development context.
“It is also important to note that subsection (d) of Section 102.14 provides a long list of exceptions to the buffer requirement. These exceptions include: a project site located greater than 150 feet from a named waterbody; activities involving less than one (1) acres of earth disturbance; activities when a permit is not required under Chapter 102; activities where the permit was acquired before November 19, 2010; road maintenance activities; repair and maintenance of existing pipelines and utilities; oil, gas, timber harvesting or mining activities; single family homes not part of a larger common plan or development; and activities authorized by a Department permit under another Chapter or title.
“It is also important to note, that as part of the Commonwealth’s commitments to meeting the requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”), riparian buffer installation and maintenance is an important practice to ensure the Commonwealth meets its milestone goals.
“Removal of the requirement for forested riparian buffers in HQ/EV waters may negatively impact the total numbers of riparian buffers needed under the Pennsylvania Watershed Implementation Plan and the TMDL, which function together to form the Blueprint to help clean the Bay.
“Given the innumerable societal and ecological benefits, along with the clear legal authority and requirement flexibility, CBF hopes that House Bill 1565 will not be brought to a vote in Committee.”
A copy of the letter is available online.
Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), serves as Majority Chair, and Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair.

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